World Series ump crew youngest in years, nod to K-zone tech
Now retired, longtime Major League Baseball umpire Dale Scott scanned the playoff lineup and was startled to spot the names of so many young umps.
When he saw the list for the upcoming World Series, he had the same reaction. And then some.
“I saw hints in previous years. But this year, my God, it’s a changing of the guard,” he said. “It’s been leading up to this, but now it’s official.”
In a nod to computerized strike zones, plus other factors including injuries, retirements and postseason rotations, the seven-man World Series umpire crew announced Wednesday by MLB is easily the youngest in recent memory.
At an average age of 45.7 years old, the crew calling the Philadelphia Phillies-Houston Astros matchup is more than five years younger than the average of World Series crews over the past decade, The Associated Press tallied.
So young, in fact, there won’t be a full-time regular-season crew chief on the field in Game 2 on Saturday night. Usually, two or sometimes three veteran chiefs are on the Fall Classic crew.
“That would’ve been unimaginable not too long ago,” said Scott, who emphasized he gives high marks to this crew.
One of the reasons: In general, younger umpires tend to score more highly with ball-strike calling in MLB metrics. And with fans howling every time a pitch is missed on the TV box, and those shouts ramping up calls for robot umps already being used in the minor leagues, the sport would like to keep barking to a minimum.
Pat Hoberg joined the full-time umpiring staff in 2017 and, at 36, is set to work the plate in Game 2 on Saturday night in Houston. In the past, it would’ve taken much longer to draw a coveted World Series assignment.
But Hoberg rates among the best pitch callers in the majors. The web site umpscorecards.com — which tracks every pitch of the season and uses advanced methods to analyze them — ranks him No. 1 in accuracy among all umpires at 95.4%.
The site doesn’t use the same box that MLB employs, and neither do the TV networks. But the ratings give a good indication of who scores best behind the plate.
Tripp Gibson, at 41, and Jordan Baker, at 40, also rated highly in pitch accuracy and will work their first World Series.
Dan Iassogna (53) is the crew chief and working his third World Series, often praised within the sport for the way he calmly runs games. Alan Porter (44), James Hoye (51) and Lance Barksdale (55) are calling the Fall Classic for the second time.
MLB considers many factors when picking the World Series crew — ball-strike grades, game management, performance this year and over a career, and more.
Also, who’s available. Many umpires were hurt and missed long periods this season. Veteran Ted Barrett, meanwhile, called the 2021 World Series, and umps don’t work it in consecutive years.
Why do younger umps tend to score better on pitches? Often because they’ve come up through the ranks training with a strike zone box, learning to call exactly what MLB wants.
Say Adam Wainwright threw a big-bending curveball that Yadier Molina caught with his glove open-faced, flat on the ground. A veteran umpire might call that a ball — the Cardinals battery doesn’t flinch, it’s been a ball forever.
But a younger ump is more likely to call that a strike. It nicked the lower part of the zone, even by an inch, and that’s an MLB strike. Someday, maybe sooner than later, computers might be making those calls.
Hoye will call balls and strikes for Game 1 at Minute Maid Park on Friday night. As the umpires rotate spots, each one will be off the field the game before they work the plate.
Iassogna will be in reserve for Game 2, and Hoye will serve as crew chief. Hoye frequently filled in as a crew chief this season for injured umps.
For now, though, it’ll mean no permanent chief on the field that night at Minute Maid.
The alignment caught Scott’s eye. A big league ump during 33 seasons and a crew chief for half that time, he called the World Series three times.
He recalled a postseason series he worked with fellow crew chief Joe West. MLB officials made sure at least one of them was in the infield every game, rather than both being on the outfield lines at the same time.
“It’s a change in philosophy, for sure,” Scott said.
Scott retired after the 2017 season at 58, rather than risk another concussion, and wrote a book “The Umpire is Out” about his life in baseball and as a gay man.
Scott is among several vet umps to retire in recent years. West and Gerry Davis left after last season and Tom Hallion and Greg Gibson are among those who called their last games this year.
“The staff has skewed so young,” Scott said. “But it’s good to get younger umpires into these big-game situations. You don’t get experience until you work it.”
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